Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo

 

Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »

Watching Alzheimer’s
How to image brain plaques

Context: The sticky plaques characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease build up in the brains of patients well before cognitive symptoms appear. But the most reliable noninvasive method for detecting these plaques – positron emission tomography (PET) – is prohibitively expensive and unwieldy, requiring hard-to-handle, short-lived radioactive materials. Now, two groups of researchers have demonstrated more-practical methods for monitoring the plaque development characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease. One of them promises higher-resolution images than PET.

Methods and Results: Conventional imaging chemicals do not work well with amyloid plaques because the brain is separated from potentially toxic chemicals in the blood by the blood-brain barrier; nor can the typically water-loving chemicals readily access the fatty plaques. Martin Hintersteiner of the Novartis Institutes of Biomedical Research in Basel, Switzerland, found a dye that crosses the blood-brain barrier in mice and binds to plaques. In a procedure called near-infrared imaging, the dye yields a quantitatively stronger signal as the number of plaques in the brain increases. In a separate study, Makoto Higuchi and colleagues at Riken Brain Science Institute and Dojin Laboratories in Japan found another dye that works in conjunction with magnetic-resonance imaging, a technique common in both research and the treatment of patients. The resulting images correlated well with images of the same mice obtained after staining slices of their brains.

Why It Matters: Usually, researchers studying Alzheimer’s must dissect animal brains to see the effects of treatments. But monitoring a living brain over time would yield much more useful information and might even help in early diagnosis. Because Hintersteiner’s and Higuchi’s imaging techniques cost as little as a fiftieth as much as PET, and because the chemicals are easier to work with, live experiments once considered out of reach can now be performed on animals – and, with the MRI technique, potentially even people.

Sources: Higuchi, M., et al. 2005. 19F and 1H MRI detection of amyloid ß plaques in vivo. Nature Neuroscience 8:527-33.
Hintersteiner, M., et al. 2005. In vivo detection of amyloid-ß deposits by near-infrared imaging using an oxazine-derivative probe. Nature Biotechnology 23:577-83.

0 comments about this story. Start the discussion »

Tagged: Biomedicine

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

From the Archives

Close

Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me